Child Custody in Tennessee – The Legal Process

Tennessee Child Custody – Family Law Attorney

Tennessee Child Custody issues

To most parents, their children are the most important part of their lives.  Whether your child is born outside of marriage or within a marital union that ends in divorce, the child custody becomes an issue for you.  Parenting a child with both the mother and father living together under the same roof can be complicated enough. But, when the parents live separately it involves several additional issues and decisions.  A determination must be made as to which parent your child will be with and when.  Also, which parent has the authority to make educational, medical and other major decisions for the child.  As well as how the child will be financially supported.  These issues are all part of the legal process of the arrangement for the custody of a child in Tennessee. Sometimes the parent agree upon a child custody determination Other times the court makes the decision.  In either instance you need a family law attorney involved.  Also, any child custody arrangements should be formalized by a court order.

Shared Parenting – Joint Custody – is  the Standard in Tennessee

Tennessee law regarding child custody and the courts in Tennessee foster and enforce the standard of shared parenting or joint child custody.  Many studies show that the involvement of both parents serves children much better.  Although there may be issues with one parent or the other, the standard remains the same.  Both parents have the opportunity to be involved in parenting decisions.  Also both parents exercise parenting time with the child.  Note that the term “visitation” is now “parenting time” and  “custody” is now “parenting decisions”.  Except for extreme cases, which will be discussed briefly below, sole child custody is not awarded to one parent with visitation to the other parent.  The parties and/or the court now develop a Permanent Parenting Plan which delineates or specifies the parenting responsibilities of both parents. This includes joint decision making in health care, education, religious or spiritual matters . This also includes other major decisions for the child.

 The “Primary Residential Parent”  is the parent with whom the child resides the majority of the time during the year. This designation  is only to satisfy certain requirements of law such as school zoning, income tax exemptions, etc. The other parent is the “alternate residential parent”.  For more information about shared parenting and your legal rights as a parent speak to a Tennessee child custody lawyer/ family law attorney.

Tennessee Shared Parenting Explained

Shared parenting does not necessarily mean equal parenting.  At least not in terms of residential time with the child.  There are times in which a split (50/50) parenting schedule results from a child custody determination.  In many cases, however, a 50/50 split parenting schedule is not practical for the child or the parents.  In many Tennessee child custody cases the primary parent will spend approximately 285 days per year with the child while the other parent spends the remainder.  The alternate residential parent spends approximately 80 days with the children on an every other weekend basis with time for holidays and summer vacations.  On the surface this arrangement may appear to be a custody/visitation arrangement with better sounding terminology.  However, the emphasis is on joint or shared decision making and equal opportunity to parent the child.

Mediation in Child Custody Disputes

There are times when the parents can not agree on a certain parenting matter.  To solve this issue, usually the parenting plan will require the parents to attend formal dispute resolution or mediation. Mediation requires the parents to attempt to resolve the controversy before returning to court.  This is an effort to keep parenting and related issues within the confines of collaboration between the parents.   This is as opposed to a dictate from a court.  However, there are certain issues that may arise in which mediation is not the appropriate remedy. Such as child abuse, or drug/alcohol related problems.  If you believe that a change in child custody or parenting arrangements needs to be addressed, seek legal advice.  Get counsel from an attorney experienced in child custody disputes and resolution.

Limitations on Shared Parenting in Tennessee

Obviously not all parenting situations are the same.   There are times when either the father or the mother exhibits a lack of parenting skills or has problems which present a negative impact upon the child.  In such cases , the courts must determine if such problems require a limitation on shared parenting.    Issues range from problems involving child abuse, drug or alcohol dependency, to other issues which may impair the parent’s ability to effectively perform parenting responsibilities. The court protects the child but also preserves  the parent child relationship, whenever possible. The court may require supervised parenting time. Or limit the decision making to one parent.   In the most severe cases, the court will grant sole custody of the child to the other parent. Thus the impaired parent receives no parenting time. Such parent may apply for parenting time in the future.  Limiting factors in child custody determinations involve quite complex legal issues.

The Process of Making  Child Custody Determinations

The process of child custody determinations is sometimes different in divorce cases.  In contrast to cases involving unmarried parents. The focus in Tennessee is upon agreed child custody or parenting plan arrangements.   In a divorce action, with limited exceptions,  the parents must attend mediation.  Mediation requires parents to attempt to reach agreement on a temporary parenting plan.  If this effort fails the court will then enter an order adopting a temporary parenting plan as proposed by one of the parties. The court wants parents to try to resolve all of the disputes including child custody arrangements and child support.

Unresolved Issues Decided by the Court

Again the court hears and decides unresolved conflicts. This is after mediation efforts fail. In cases involving unmarried parents, the Court does not always enforce the requirement to attend mediation. For instance, the juvenile court often times enters basic child custody orders. But, a parent can request a mediated parenting plan.   Typically, the courts honor a request for mediated parenting plans. However, case loads involving dependency and neglect and child abuse overwhelm Tennessee juvenile courts.  So juvenile courts do not favor out drawn out litigation.

Child Custody and the Family Law Attorney

Issues involving the parenting, decision making and residential schedule for minor children involve many serious matters of law and sometimes dire consequences.  A child custody determination, once made by the court, is very difficult to change or modify.  The emphasis on shared parenting does not mean that the custody arrangements are readily changeable.  In recent years the courts have some of simplified child custody modifications, at least somewhat. A parenting plan or other child custody order should be permanent.  So it is vitally important to resolve the issues, problems and conflicts, during the initial determination of child custody.  This is why you should have a family law attorney.  Contact Purple Law Firm to discuss child custody and the legal process in Tennessee.

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    1. Child support is a completely separate issue from joint custody. But, the performance or non support of the child is a factor that the court will consider in making a child custody determination. Best to speak to a family law practicioner about the specific issues.

  1. What do you need to do if two divorced parents have shared custody and one parent dies? Does he automatically gain full custody and if so how do you go about fighting this? The surviving parent is in and out of jail and the aunt and uncle of the deceased would make a better guardian.

  2. if both parties agree to joint custody and the child resides with both parents equql time does there have to be a residential or custodial parent named?

    1. Yes, certain federal and state laws require the designation of a “custodial” or primary residential parent. For instance, determination of school District, tax credits, etc.

  3. How do these considerations change if one parent lives in a different state but is financially stronger in order to care for the child educationally and health wise?

    1. Yes, the Court would take that into consideration. However, obtaining approval for a minor child to reside outside of Tennessee requires the parent to show proof that it is in the manifest best interest of the child. This is the type of case that needs the expertise of a family law professional.

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